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Outage points to depth of P2P arsenal

The Morpheus shutdown has file traders stocking up at lesser-known services with a raft of second-tier products together drawing more than 1 million downloads in a week.

The sudden shutdown of the Morpheus network last week has file swappers trolling for new sources of free music--and they're finding plenty of alternatives.

Although Morpheus and rival Kazaa Media Desktop remain the file-swapping tools of choice, a raft of second-tier peer-to-peer products together drew more than 1 million downloads in the past week, according to CNET Download.com, a software aggregation site operated by CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

Morpheus, a file-trading network from StreamCast Networks, locked out users Feb. 26 after a licensing dispute with its software provider. The company has since released a new version built on open-source Gnutella technology.

StreamCast and several other companies also face a lawsuit from the record and film industries aimed at shutting down file-swapping services. During the case's first hearing Monday, a federal judge ordered the file-swapping companies to stand trial before a jury on copyright infringement.

The clashes have had little effect on file traders, however. Download.com reported strong interest in second-tier services last week, including 382,000 downloads for iMesh; 214,487 for BearShare; 205,274 for LimeWire; 161,152 for Grokster; and 105,339 for Audiogalaxy. Even Napster, the former king of file swapping, drew 7,812 downloads for a test version of a promised new service.

The Morpheus shutdown preceded a sharp rise in use for some services using Gnutella's open-source technology--software that can be freely modified by independent programmers. LimeWire, one of the most prominent versions of Gnutella-based software, reported that its simultaneous users increased some 220 percent last week. The number of people using the service climbed from 100,000 on Feb. 24 to 320,000 on March 3, according to the New York-based company.

Some early testers of the new Gnutella-based software from Morpheus complained that it was not as stable as the previous version. Gnutella's technology is based on a model in which individual searches are handed off from computer to computer. If one computer logs in, it connects directly to another computer on the network rather than to a central server maintained by a company.

LimeWire CEO Mark Gorton countered that the Gnutella system has responded well to the increase in traffic.

"The Morpheus outage has caused many people to look at LimeWire again," Gorton said in a statement. He added that although the Gnutella network has grown significantly in a couple of days, it has performed without technical glitches and has been able to accommodate users.

News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.